Sparrows are the most common sighted birds in cities but their number is ever dwindling. Scriptures refer to them in very benign terms, Farmers will scare the bird in hot summer sitting on a perch to not let them feed on mature crops but would not kill them. It is easy. But they would let them live.
A Danish folk song advises that when one rakes harvested crop in the yard, one does it lightly, leaving some grains for the birds and the poor1. Sighting or nesting of sparrows in a new house is considered a good omen in many parts of India. And yet, where are sparrows to be seen in many urban places nowadays?
Dr. Paresh A. Raval, principal of an engineering polytechnic, earlier in Kutchh and now in Ahmedabad is a man with a noble mission to provide these vulnerable birds a home to nest in. In 2010, when he was posted in Bhuj, a personal setback turned his life around. His younger brother’s wife passed away leaving behind two young children. He was distressed seeing the plight of the young ones who had lost their mother at such a young age. One day as he was sitting in his courtyard he observed something unusual. He noticed two sparrow eggs inside an old pair of shoes lying nearby. He was appalled by the sight and felt pity for the plight of these birds that do not have even a place to lay their eggs in. Suddenly he correlated this incident thinking just as humans would suffer when someone close is lost, how would a bird feel when it cannot even bring her young ones to this world, safely? He thought of this as a divine calling and found a way to fill the sad void that his family was experiencing at that time. Life was never the same again. Dr Rawal decided from that moment that he will provide a ‘home’ to these birds.
Soon after, he was transferred to Ahmedabad, where he immediately made a design for clay pot nests. A potter near his college helped him get about 5000 such clay nests made from a nearby village. This passion has taken over him completely and he carries a clay pot nest wherever he goes and gifts one to anyone who needs it (including the HoneyBee team). All this has been done out of his own pocket. He says that he gets tremendous satisfaction and a sense of peace when he provides homes to these birds. He says this is his ‘return gift’ to nature! Dr Rawal even carries special sturdy iron nails and wire along with the clay nests (so as to immediately help in hanging the pot when he gifts it to someone).
The SRISTI team recalls a similar incident about ten years back when someone spotted the sparrow eggs inside a urinal, which was unused for many days. The sight was pitiful! Dr Paresh Rawal recalls meeting Mr Kabra, a keen bird enthusiast; who feeds hundreds of crows daily! He adds that it would be wonderful to have more such persons in our society. Till date, he has distributed over a lakh such clay nests. He says modern houses do not have a place for our feathered friends.
The reasons for the dwindling number of sparrows are heavy cutting of greenery, radiation from cell phone tower, pollutants like lead as emission in exhaust of vehicles and heat wave due to global warming. He says all the odds are there, but there are so many old shops and houses having roofs of iron sheets or clay tiles on wooden trusses underneath which these birds build their nests. Since, sparrows are not good at making their own nest, they lay their egg in small holes or behind a small support or at any odd places when they cannot bear it anymore.
How can we offer them our help? Dr Rawal suggests simple steps for urbanites. He says
- provide greenery and little space in any odd corner at our house
- provide shelter of card box, bamboos inside covered places, where it is safe in heavy winds and rain; else use stronger clay pots to act as good shelter against rain and wind
- grow trees, plants and shrubs because, one of the feed for sparrow other than food grain is insects, which need greenery
We can rationalise the use of cell phones but then why not provide green bushes or shelter for them against heat waves. It is the zeal, love and compassion of people like him that we still have feathered friends for our company. We remember how the great ornithologist Dr Salim Ali was inspired for life, after he witnessed the ‘The Fall of a Sparrow’. We hope that more readers will get feathers in their caps, sorry nests!!!
Dr Paresh Raval can be contacted at – 67, Alok Bunglow, (Near Nirant Park), Opp. Sun N Step club, Thaltej, Ahmedabad-60 (M), Phone 9426395128
This text was also published in the HoneyBee Newsletter Honey Bee 22(1) & 22(2) 13, 2011
1 No value judgment is intended in this reference to poor. Of course this is not the way a civilized society should plan to feed the poor, but this saying dates to an ancient feudal period in European history (Ed.).